Johnston Press multimedia agreement is reached in Leeds

NUJ activists at Johnston Press’s flagship media centre in Leeds have secured an agreement that guarantees working conditions for reporting staff when using new media.

In January the joint NUJ chapel of the Yorkshire Post and the Yorkshire Evening Post refused to start multimedia training until an agreement was in place that guaranteed health and safety, workload and professional standards.

Father of chapel and veteran YEP reporter Pete Lazenby said the agreement mainly concerned the health and safety of staff and said the agreement will be seen as a landmark for other chapels faced with changing working conditions.

He said: “They started multimedia training last year without talking to us and we said ‘look, that’s not the way to do it – if we’re going to do new media we’re going to do it properly’, and we put a freeze on training. We’re not saying we won’t do it but we’re saying it’s got be monitored, there have to be safeguards in place [to guarantee] people’s health and safety and working hours.

I’m a reporter – it’s one thing going into a trouble spot with a pen and notebook in your pocket and another thing entirely going in with a bloody expensive camera on your shoulder.”

All staff at both papers will be offered training on how to use and upload from video cameras, though it is not compulsory.

Changes at the Leeds newsroom are drive to introduce and improve multimedia facilities, after the success of its pioneering of new media at the Lancashire Evening Post in Preston. The YEP has taken on a digital editor and last week recruited an online communities editor as well as relaunching its Leeds Today website, which now features staff and reader blogs and photo slideshows.

Lazenby said that new media negotiations were hindered by the company’s reluctance to recognise a group Johnston NUJ chapel made up of members from around 30 centres, leaving individual chapels to negotiate locally. He said: “To all intents and purposes this is a national agreement, but we have had to negotiate it in Leeds. We’re not trying to stop progress, but we’re not prepared to go into it with a blindfold on.”

Chief executive Tim Bowdler said: “The terms of the agreement are no different from the terms in existence across the company. They wanted the primacy of health and safety, but that’s embedded in the group.

It’s our responsibility as an employer.”

There is virtually universal acceptance that we need to take advantage of the opportunities digital platforms offer us.”

Former North West Enquirer publisher Nick Jaspan (above) this week launched a new website for the media industry which he hopes will succeed where the weekly newspaper failed by focusing on Manchester and Liverpool rather than covering the whole North West.

Jaspan admitted that the weekly paper he launched last April with Bob Waterhouse, which folded in September, was aimed at too large an area.

Jaspan said he has six major investors and is launching the news-driven site with a “modest six-figure sum”.

He said: “To a certain degree the Enquirer commercially was going to stand on the success in Manchester and Liverpool, but there were a lot of readers outside the M62 corridor. In this case I think that 80 to 90 per cent plus of the business activity and readership will be concentrated within Manchester and Liverpool; it’s much clearer this time. In media terms, apart from the odd newspaper or radio station outside that area, there are very few design and ad agencies of any size. I hope and believe there is a little niche for this.”

He said the site will employ 12 journalists on a freelance basis including: Kevin Gopal, ex-BBC political correspondent for the North West; Jim Hancock, former editor of Entrepreneur magazine; Scott McCubbin, who now works for a creative agency; and former North West Enquirer arts editor Angie Sammons.

Jaspan said: “Overheads are being kept to minimum; the sales side of things is all automated; just click and pay. That gives us a substantial amount of working capital and reasonable rates to pay writers. The emphasis is on creation and content.”

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